Strictly Critical Video: Gopnik and Viveros-Fauné, On Andres Serrano’s New York “Residents”

Our duo disagrees—vehemently—about the artist's photographs of the homeless.

This week our two intrepid art critics respond to art in the public realm. A nonprofit called More Art has got artist Andres Serrano to produce a project called “Residents of New York,” in which the advertising in a Greenwich Village subway station is replaced with photos of some of the city’s 50,000 homeless people. Subway riders get to see street kids where they expect to find stars of the latest Hollywood film, rags where they expect to see trendy fashions. Serrano is best known for his shocking “Piss Christ” photo, the image of a crucifix in urine that enraged the right wing in 1989 and helped fan the culture wars. A quarter-century later, he’s making work that is either deeply committed to social issues, as our critic Blake Gopnik insists, or, according to Christian Viveros-Fauné, is committed to one thing alone: Andres Serrano’s stardom. Our dynamic critical duo go underground to debate the value, and dangers, of making the helpless the subjects of art.

Blake Gopnik: This is meant to wake us up to the insane plight of homeless people in NYC . . . pointing the finger at people who are sleeping on the street in sleeping bags.

Christian Viveros-Fauné: I think that we have to talk about whether this is really properly socially engaged art, which is what it’s being passed off as. [Serrano] is appropriating the technology of advertising the format to essentially sell himself.


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